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A Gift of Self

A gift of self is a thrilling gift. There are many kinds of gifts, but we almost never give away our very selves. We reserve our self exclusively for us. Weddings are the only exception. They are thrilling occasions because bride and groom give each other the gift of self.

Our sages compared what happened at Sinai to a wedding. At Mount Sinai, G-d gave us the Torah. The Torah contains G-d’s private thoughts, but private as thoughts are, they are just thoughts. At Mount Sinai, G-d gave us more than just his thoughts. He invested His very self into His thoughts. It was the ultimate gift of self.

An Old Torah
The Torah was known to our ancestors before it was received at Sinai. Our sages taught that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never stopped studying and observing the Torah though it had yet to be given. They sat in their study halls and studied constantly. The tribe of Levi never stopped studying Torah while they were in Egypt. The Jewish people knew the Torah. It was revealed to Adam, Noah, his descendants, and finally to Abraham. In that case, what did G-d give us at Sinai that we did not have before?

The difference was that until Sinai, G-d invited us into His thoughts, but He remained aloof, beyond our reach. At Mount Sinai, G-d said, “I will place myself into the Torah.” Anyone who wants to embrace me, need only study the Torah.

There are many reasons to study the Torah. One is simply to know the law so we can observe it. Another is to explore G-d’s innermost thoughts and desires. But the highest and most potent of all is simply because G-d is in the Torah. Have you ever seen a little child run to embrace his father when he returns home after a long day of work? The child isn’t thinking about his father’s thoughts, wishes, feelings, or desires. The child simply wants his father. My father is home, I love him, I want to embrace him.

The same is true of Torah study after Mount Sinai. We study it like a child tearing across the yard to embrace his father. Someone else might see a book lying on the table and open it to see if it is interesting and engaging. If I am engaged, I will read on, if not I will walk away.

Jews see a Torah book on the table and know that their father is in it. The book isn’t there to engage, entertain, or edify us. The book is a portal through which we embrace G-d. We rush to the book with enthusiasm and thirstily drink its words. We are eager to turn another page, read another line, discover another portal through which to access and embrace our beloved G-d.

All Equal
Before Sinai, the Torah only gave us access to G-d’s ideas. Thus, our ability to connect with G-d depended directly on how well we could grasp them. Smarter people understood it better. Holier people grasped it on a higher level. Laypeople barely had access. After Sinai, we are all equal. When it comes to G-d’s very self, we are all equally distant and equally close.

G-d is infinitely beyond the wisest and holiest Jew but He makes Himself imminently accessible to the simplest and most boorish Jew. All it takes is a willingness to open the book. King David wrote, “G-d is close to those who call out to Him with truth.” Our sages taught that truth is a euphemism for the Torah. G-d is close to anyone who summons Him by studying the Torah.

Indeed, G-d is transcendent, but He made a pact with us at Sinai. If we call Him, He will come. When a simple Jew opens the Torah and chants, irrespective of his or her grasp or lack thereof, G-d arrives instantly and allows Himself to be embraced.

You might think that I use the term embrace euphemistically, but I don’t. Think about it. When we are immersed in a subject, our minds are embraced—enveloped by the subject. In turn, we grasp the subject in our minds—we envelop the subject. This is precisely the definition of an embrace. When we are immersed in Torah study, G-d quite literally hugs our minds, and we quite literally hug Him back.

Aah, I just said His thoughts, were we not talking about Him? The answer is yes. Because G-d invested His very self into each of His thoughts. Each word of the Torah contains G-d Himself. When we study that word, G-d embraces our minds and our entire consciousness. And we, in turn, embrace Him. Remember that G-d is not a body and can thus be found in anything, even a word or a thought.

Whether we understand it thoroughly or not at all, a Torah study experience is a chance to fly at G-d and give Him a hug. Before Mount Sinai, those who were smarter had better access to the Torah. After Mount Sinai, the Torah is equally accessible to every Jew. Because piety and wisdom are no longer the only criteria to embrace G-d. Having a Jewish soul is the first and most important criteria.

This is why our sages taught that if even one Jew had been absent at Mount Sinai, G-d would not have appeared. Moses and Aaron were present, but that was not enough. G-d was not giving us the Torah on our terms. He was giving the Torah on His terms. His terms transcend even the greatest Jew, but they are accessible even to the simplest Jew. That is why every Jew had to be present. Every Jew counts.

A Gift
This explains why we refer to Shavuot as the day we were gifted the Torah. We don’t call it the day we received the Torah or even that we were given the Torah. We call it the day we were gifted the Torah.

Passover is called the day of our liberation, Sukkot is called the day of our joy, but on Shavuot the focus is not on us—our ability to receive or master the Torah. The focus is on G-d. It was His gift. You can’t earn or purchase a gift. The giver must choose to give it. G-d gifted us the Torah at Sinai—the ultimate gift of self. The focus is not on us on this day, it is on Him—His gift.

The Gift in Return
If G-d gave us His gift of self, we must reciprocate by giving G-d our gift of self. This means that we follow His wishes whether we understand or not, believe or not, agree or not. Not because we think they are right, but because we know they are His. This is our gift back to Him.

There can be no daylight between us and G-d just as there is no daylight between G-d and us. The moment we breach the relationship, the moment we turn our back, the gift vanishes—as we withdraw our gift of self, so does G-d.

However, the good news is that G-d is infinitely loving and patient. The moment we turn back to G-d and restore our gift of self, He comes back to the table and reissues His gift of self.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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